Social & Emotional Skill-Building Classes Everyone Can Benefit From:

The Broad Applicability of Dialectical Behavior Therapy


Elements of DBT are applicable for anyone interested in self-improvement because it addresses basic areas of functioning that we all sometimes feel are disrupted occasionally. These include mindfulness/focus, regulating our emotions, tolerating stress, and being effective in interpersonal relationships. What does dialectical mean? Dialectical refers to the belief that two opposing thoughts can exist at the same time. The underlying dialectic in DBT is we can accept ourselves as we are  and at the same time  we can work toward change.

The opposite of dialectical thinking is dichotomous thinking, or black-and-white thinking. Dichotomous thinking allows for there to be only two possibilities: something is good or bad, a viewpoint is right or wrong, we love or we hate someone. Dichotomous thinking is tempting because it makes life simple since we only have to decide between two categories when figuring out how to classify something. The problem is, most everything in life is either gray or black-and-white. Dialectical thinking allows for something to be good and bad at the same time, a viewpoint to be right and wrong at the same time, and to love and hate someone at the same time. Dialectical thinking sees the whole picture and hears the whole truth. It allows for many people’s ideas and opinions to exist. Engaging in dialectical thinking allows you to consider the value of someone else’s opinion without de-valuing your own, love a friend after they made a mistake or disagreed with you, or preserve and build your self-esteem without the pressure of trying to be perfect.

DBT is conducted in a group format with one or two facilitators. Several weeks are devoted to each module and they are conducted as skill-building classes, not psychotherapy sessions or support group meetings. DBT is comprised of four modules: Core Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. Core Mindfulness skills are the basis for the other skill sets and are repeated after every module.

Core Mindfulness skills allow you to focus on the present and increase awareness of what is happening right now, within and outside of you. You learn to slow down and use all the information you have to get centered so that you can make healthy and effective decisions.

Emotion Regulation skills include knowing what you feel as it happens, using emotions in a healthy way, decreasing emotional intensity when needed, changing emotions when possible, and sitting with them without acting on them.

Distress Tolerance skills enable you to reduce frequent or intense difficult emotions by changing what you can and accepting what you can’t. You learn to soothe yourself before engaging in unhealthy and ineffective emotional reactions.

Interpersonal Effectiveness skills help you understand what your needs are in relationships, get those needs met in healthy ways, communicate effectively, and repair relationships – all while maintaining or improving self-respect and the respect of others.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, was developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. in the late 1980’s. In addition to its broad applicability for general self-improvement, several studies over the past 25+ years have shown DBT to be an empirically validated treatment, meaning that clinical trials have demonstrated its effectiveness for a number of different diagnoses. It is used to treat anxiety, depression and other mood disorders, trauma, substance dependence, eating disorders, and personality disorders.


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